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Learning Science in Informal Environments: People, Places, and Pursuits
that can form the basis for further science learning. This literature is reviewed in Chapter 7 and includes evidence from cultural psychology, anthropology, and educational research. The committee thinks that the diverse skills and orientations that members of different cultural communities bring to formal and informal science learning contexts are assets to be built on. For example, researchers have documented that children reared in rural agricultural communities who have more intense and regular interactions with plants and animals develop more sophisticated understanding of ecology and biological species than urban and suburban children of the same age. Others have identified connections between children’s culturally based story-telling and argumentation and science inquiry, and they have documented pedagogical means of leveraging these connections to support students’ science learning. The research synthesized in this volume demonstrates the importance of enlisting, embracing, and enlarging diversity as a means of enhancing learning about science and the natural world.
Conclusion 5: Learners’ prior knowledge, interest, and identity—long understood as integral to the learning process—are especiallyimportant in informal environments.
The committee urges that researchers, practitioners, and policy makers pay special attention not only to the long-established importance of prior knowledge (National Research Council, 2000), but also to the broader array of learners’ prior capabilities and interests reflected in the six strands and discussed throughout this report (see especially Chapters 3 through 6). The committee underscores the idea that prior interest and identity are as important as prior knowledge for understanding and promoting learning.
Prior knowledge, experience, and interests are especially important in informal learning environments, where opportunities to learn can be fleeting, episodic, and strongly learner-driven. At any point in the life span, learners have knowledge and interests, which they can tap into for further science learning. This includes their comfort and familiarity with science. Although learners’ knowledge may remain tacit and may not always be scientifically accurate, it can serve as the basis for more sophisticated learning over time. Educators can support learners of all ages by intentionally querying, drawing on, and extending their interests, ideas about self, and knowledge.
Conclusion 6: Informal science learning, although composed ofmultiple communities of practice, shares common commitmentsto science learning environments that: